Taking the Model out of the Forest: IMFNS in Central Asia

To date, the model forest concept has been applied in forest-dominated ecosystems. Over the years, as model forests have established themselves, many participants have observed that model forest principles can also be effective in important non-forest areas. For example, the critical partnership aspect of the model has diffused or resolved conflict among stakeholders in some model forests, thereby paving the way for new opportunities for collaboration. In many others, the model forest has contributed positively to regional, social and economic development. In fact, for many model forest participants, particularly from developing countries, the social and economic development aspects of sustainable forest management (SFM) are of the greatest immediate value. So, is the model forest concept a tool for SFM or development, or both? How might the concept function when the forest is removed from the equation? 

Recently, the IMFNS had an opportunity to take the concept completely out of the forest to see how it might be applied to help develop a strategy for conflict resolution and socio-economic development around another important natural resource – water.

Central Asia's Fergana Valley is a small arid territory of 38,000 km2 that is shared by three developing countries (Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan, and Kyrgyzstan) and 10 million people. Their post-Soviet economies are weak, their populations young and growing, and the demands placed on their water resources, including very high demands to irrigate cotton fields, are stressing the resource and the legislation governing conservation and distribution. In the vast area of Central Asia, the Fergana Valley has by far the greatest potential for ethnic and interstate conflict,  most frequently over water.

Map of the Central Asia Region

The Canadian International Development Agency's (CIDA) Central Asia Division and its Peacebuilding Unit invited the IMFNS to participate in a strategic planning mission to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan this past January. Could the model forest concept be applied – in whole or in part – to help the Fergana Valley find its way through its many water management problems and its daunting economic development challenges?

Over 10 days in the field, the model forest concept was presented to over 24 local stakeholders and politicians, NGOs, water management specialists, international donors, and aid agencies. Without exception, the concept was seen as something that had strong potential application in the region. In particular, the idea of adopting a proven process for finding partnership-based solutions to shared problems, and the idea of moving beyond conflict to shared strategies and projects toward a more secure future, left the greatest impressions. 

Whether or not some sort of hybrid model forest will  be established in the Fergana Valley remains to be seen. As part of its contribution to the mission, the IMFNS submitted a strategy to CIDA that recommends Canada begin building strategic partnerships with regional donors and stakeholders to confirm  a "working" interest in the concept. If there is interest, the concept may see its first non-forest application sometime in the near future.